I must have been about 10 when I discovered that maps were not just for finding your way or knowing you were lost, but that they also tell a story.
The wonderful range of products available from the Ordnance Survey and its network of approved educational suppliers allows teachers and pupils to tell all kinds of stories.
One product, a software program called Local Studies (Produced by Soft Teach Education), enables schools to draw their own maps, composing a picture from their own information and Ordnance Survey data. Another, the Statlas UK, brings official statistics to life in full-colour maps. CD-Roms of London and York are complemented by expensive but unique software which wraps three-dimensional data round basic OS mapping information.
The maps themselves reveal fascinating stories about the places where we live, whether in the new Folens UK atlas, aimed at key stages 2 and 3, which offers economic and demographic sections and demonstrations of data mapping as well as physical geography and a gazetteer, or in the detail of local and historical maps.
You can home in on ever more detail on your chosen area. You can hang a wall map of the whole country, showing communication and political divisions - the latest one to be published shows Rainfall. You can then move on to the Travelmaster range and buy the nine maps on 1:625,000 scale which cover the country. Here localities can be seen in a wider context and settlements oriented within wider geographical constraints - rivers, hills, coasts. The Landranger maps, of which there are 204, are scaled 1:50,000 and show rights of way, village names and blocks of houses, small geographical features.
Smaller sections from these maps are also available for project maps and examination entries, for practising map references and co-ordinates, drawing cross-sections, making plans and abstracting local information. Getting closer in, the Pathfinder maps at 1:25,000 scale show individual houses and fields, small streams, ponds.
But that's not the end. You can go closer in and closer. Superplan can offer you purpose-plotted maps of your area at scales from 1:5,000 to 1:200 (a site-centred A4 plot at 1:1,250 is available from the National Map Centre). At scale 1:2,500 you get land parcel information. You can also buy aerial photographs of individual areas from OS. Intriguingly, you can buy historical maps and move the focus back and forth in time. These maps are usually available on paper or matt or clear film, for use in overhead projectors.
To see how such a package might work in action, there is a sample teachers' pack showing the area around Port Talbot. The Teacher Resource File from OS has 182 pages offering examples of all kinds of cartographic information. From geological maps to the national grid, satellite and aerial photography, plotting of census information and weather data, all are linked to the national curriculum and photocopiable.
Or you can go just for fun and get either Microsoft's Autoroute planner, which works out how to get round the country with least fuss, or the OS Discover London or Discover York. These two products are half-educational and half aimed at tourists. When you click on "hotspots" you get potted bits of history but you also have the facility to zoom in and out of locations at different scales, view oblique and direct aerial photographs at the same time, view maps and aerial photographs simultaneously, draw, measure, shade and annotate maps and aerial photographs to create customised map layers. Your imagination can flash into pixelised life.
Also on the point of launch are a country-wide range of Street Atlas CD-Roms, with Hertfordshire due this summer. An Interactive Atlas of Great Britain is also on its way.
The giant project of digitising the whole OS map stock is complete and schools can order tiles (those big square sections) at competitive rates through local authorities, who usually purchase the licence rights. Available with these titles is the multi-layered Landform Profile software which offers the possibility either to wrap contours around a flat map and make it appear 3D or, with the digital terrain model, to produce a virtual reality landscape using map data. This software is very expensive (thousands of pounds including the copyright fees) but colleges of further education might well think it worth the investment.
* Educational discounts are available from Ordnance Survey (10 per cent) and the National Map Centre (12.5 per cent). These are included in the following prices:Local Studies, produced by Soft Teach Educational for Acorn RiscOS and Windows 3.1, Pounds 47.25 plus VAT for primary licence, Pounds 67.25 for secondaryStatlas UK Pounds 14.99; Folens UK atlas Pounds 4.99; Rainfall wall map Pounds 3.99; Travelmaster wall maps Pounds 3.99 each; Landranger maps Pounds 4.75 each; Pathfinder maps Pounds 3.95 each; Superplan maps, A4 plot at 1:1,250 Pounds 24; Teacher Resource File Pounds 13.95; Microsoft Autoroute Pounds 59.95; Dis-cover London; Discover York Pounds 55.
* Ordnance Survey, Romsey Road, Maybush, Southampton, Hampshire SO16 4GU. Tel: 01703 792376. Stand G40B * National Map Centre, 22-24 Caxton Street, London SW1H 0QU. Tel: 0171-222 4425. Stand J34